The elevation of Primakov to Russia's foreign minister in early 1996 has led to a more active Russian Middle Eastern policy. Moscow has a more visible role in the region, most notably with the success in resolving the crisis in Iraq in November 1997. But does this add up to a genuine 'return' of Russian power and influence in the Middle East, one which might mirror the competitive and obstructionist policies of the former Soviet Union? There is clearly the potential threat that increased geopolitical thinking in both the USA and Russia might lead to an escalatory vicious circle, with Moscow shedding its self-imposed constraints on embracing the 'pariah' rejectionist states of the Middle East. Still, Russia's
future room for manoeuvre in the region will depend upon how the United States adapts to the growing evidence of the internal contradictions of its policy of dual containment of Iran and Iraq, and the obstacles presented to the peace process by the Netanyahu government in Israel. The one factor which cannot be ignored is the reality of Russia's continuing economic and political weakness. As long as Russia lacks the necessary material resources to support its foreign policy ambitions in the region, the future is likely to bring a diminution, rather than any strengthening, of Russian influence.